Juche: The ideology keeping North Korea brainwashed

Jayan Luharia - Jul. 25, 2023 - 7 min read - #Politics

North Korea is a notorious nation from political, economic and social standpoints. It has a history of clearly identifiable human rights' breaches as well as a rulership with an aura of modern Stalinism. North Korea is a nation that seems isolated from the modernising world - a country grounded and rooted in an intense autocratic ideological pathway that demands self-reliance yet results in the continued and prolonged poverty of its population. So what is this ideology in which North Korea so steadfastly applies itself to?

Juche. An ideology with connotations of autonomy at its centre. The ideology that still, to this very day, keeps the North Korean population subservient to the North Korean regime, and keeps the country on the trajectory that Kim Jong-un views fit.

At its centre, Juche's fundamental idea is that North Korea should maintain its distinction from the world and set sail on its own metaphorical ship under the guidance of a near-deified captain, however the vague definition of "Juche" has enabled for the flexibility of the concept of self-reliance of the nationalist sort to be taken advantage of in new and different ways by Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un respectively. However, despite the autonomical nature of the concept, "Juche" has never been implemented fully: in the past North Korea has been reliant on the Soviet Union for aid, and at present is reliant on China as its main trading partner. Without the economic support of China, this supposedly "self-reliant" country would inevitably collapse in the modern world as China provides the vital support network to sustain Kim Jong-un's regime. In early 2022, medical equipment such as ventilators and masks were stockpiled in the capital city of Pyongyang - all imported from China. Thus, we may conclude that "Juche" is a mere figurative and fictional concept that does not exist in action. Perhaps, the sole purpose of the ideology is to brainwash the North Korean population with nationalist jargon in order to keep the nation productive under the Supreme Leader's cause. If this is the case, we must outline the ways in which this ideology has become embedded into North Korea's society and subsequently outline the repercussions of this.

Initially formulated by Kim Il-sung's top advisor for philosophy, Hwang Jang-yop, the concept of Jucheism served as Kim Il-sung's own distinctive form of Marxism-Leninism. After being outlined with detail by Kim Jong-il in "On The Juche Idea", it became clear that this ideology was the guiding idea subsequent to the Korean revolution and the establishment of North Korea. The general message of this monumental treatise was that the population owes unquestioning obedience and loyalty to the Great Leader, regardless of the material circumstances. Furthermore, it is suggested that the Great Leader alone is capable of bringing the masses to consciousness. Through these ideas, the first evident implementation of Juche ideology is that of North Korea's intensive miltary self-sufficiency. It is arguable that devotion to a nation's military service is the most obvious way of showing your obedience to the "Great Leader", as the significance of the military and the army in correspondence to the fulfilment of a leader's ambition has a vast historical track record. In North Korea, this historical and anachronistic concept rings true: North Korea is considered to be the most militarised nation in the modern world, especially given the fact that the three larger military forces of China, India and the USA respectively have significantly larger populations. The strength of "Juche" underlines this military anomaly, as it is effectively non-negotiable for men over 17 to enlist, with military service for men often lasting up to 10 years. In the 86th Article of the North Korean constitution it reads: "National defence is the supreme duty and honour of citizens. Citizens shall defend the country and serve in the armed forces as required by law." Through constitutional law, the Kims can continue to instil the Juche dogma in the population, often using coercive methods such as propaganda to fulfil this role of "supreme duty." This propaganda often shows a glorified view of the North Korean army through frequent depiction of various weapons in action, particularly missiles. In a comparative nature to the Soviet and Nazi campaigns, it depicts the Kims as god-like figures, of whom maintain an elite status and level of intelligence and control over the masses, with the clear suggestion that the honourable North Korean must be a devotee to the Kim dynasty. Lastly, within this propaganda we can infer that the US is recurringly positioned as the villain and antagonistic force against North Korea, for example through the perhaps ludicrous presentation of nuclear missiles destroying the White House.

Another "Juche" principle is the idea of political independence. In the aftermath of the Korean War, the Kims and the Worker's Party of Korea as a whole has gained inspiration from its socialist/communist mutuals of the previous Soviet Union and China alike, yet despite the heavy influence, North Korea has endeavoured to keep its distinction from these, as most obviously identifiable through the creation of the quasi-Marxist-Leninist/Maoist ideology of "Juche". On another level, the Kim dynasty has also kept the nation as political independent through the longevity of the Worker's Party of Korea. Thanks to a cult of personality and a law of utmost severity, the Kims have been able to hold on to North Korea's powerful positions, ensuring this principle of "Juche" remains unchanged. 

The final core principle of "Juche", as outlined by Kim Jong-il, is the concept of economic self-sufficiency, as I have previously touched upon. Despite being arguably autarkic in its rebuild following the Korean war, this concept has had consequences. North Korea is not a wealthy nation, leading to an underinvestment in industrial capital stock and limited maintenance. It is also arguable that North Korea's unwavering commitment to military strength has dwindled the opportunity for economic development, with the investment into ballistic missiles and nuclear weaponry. These chronic problems have led to Kim Jong-il almost altering the "Juche" ideology to allow for economic cooperation between socialist states, as previously mentioned between China and North Korea.

Conclusively, it is fair to say that the "Juche" ideology is the road on which the Kims and the Worker's Party drives. It is the firmly set route of North Korea's future that everyone must abide by and contribute towards the progress of. However, the "Juche" ideology has never been truly fulfilled. Military self-reliance may be the most closely followed principle, yet there have been reliances on military aid from allies in the past. Political independence hasn't fully been achieved, as North Korea draws so heavily off of its neighbouring countries. Additionally, it does not have the power nor the capacity to fully commit to a successful independent political path. Lastly, North Korea hasn't achieved economic self-sufficiency. It maintains a directed control over the national economy, however without the input of China as a trading partner, the nation would inevitably collapse. Thus, I believe the "Juche" ideology serves North Korea no genuine purpose aside from brainwashing its population and ensuring that the loyalty to the unstable campaign of the Kim dynasty remains unchallenged.